Dr. Richard Stanwick has received a lot of angry emails as of late.
Some have told him to butt out of the marijuana edible business. Others have challenged the right for the health authority to enforce legislation on pot shops selling the products.
As the chief medical health officer for Island Health, Stanwick has tried to explain that the health authority has an obligation to respond to complaints from the public. So far Island Health has received three complaints about marijuana edibles sold at pot shops in the region. The most recent came Monday after someone got sick.
“People get angry at us because they assume because it’s for sale as a product on a store shelf that in fact the food premise regulations are being enforced. The issue is we don’t know where the marijuana is coming from,” said Stanwick, noting federal testing has found some marijuana edibles laced with pesticides.
“It’s not picking on them (pot shops). It’s just the fact that at this stage, they are selling illegal product that police have not decided to act against. It doesn’t mean if they have a product that is posing a risk to the public that we won’t act.”
A complaint last year sparked health officials to approach the City of Victoria, which was in the process of developing regulations for the nearly 40 dispensaries operating without a business license in the city. Officials provided advice to the city regarding the distribution of marijuana edibles (such as baked goods, chocolate, tea or gummies infused with marijuana or marijuana oils) following consultations with lawyers for Island Health and the province.
According to Stanwick, Island Health is not objecting to another form of marijuana being sold at dispensaries; it’s when they take that additional step and add it as an ingredient to a food product that it becomes a concern and runs afoul of the province’s food regulations.
The regulations require every operator of a food premises to ensure that all food is obtained from a source approved by the federal and provincial government. Under current regulatory framework in Canada, marijuana cannot be legally sourced for sale to the public. The federal government, however, is expected to table cannabis legislation any day.
Stanwick isn’t aware of any facility authorized to prepare, sell or distribute marijuana edibles to the public and noted dispensaries in Vancouver also aren’t permitted to sell edibles as a condition of their business license, but some continue to ignore the rules.
Island Health has inspected some dispensaries in the region reported to be selling edibles and requested the products be removed for sale or distribution. Other dispensaries have also been contacted and made aware of the food premises regulations, and a second letter was recently issued, noting noncompliance may impede the issuance of a business licence.
Now, Stanwick said Island Health has the right to start issuing tickets for those who refuse to comply and they could eventually wind up in court.
In response, the lawyer representing several dispensaries in the area stated in a letter to Island Health that the use of medical cannabis edibles has been approved by the federal government and prohibition of non-dried forms of medical marijuana “limits liberty and security of the person in a manner that is arbitrary.”
“Preventing medical cannabis patients who access edible products from dispensaries from doing so will cause harm to health,” states the letter, noting many patients rely on access to marijuana edibles at dispensaries, (which are regularly tested and of known potency and quality) as a critical component of their overall health.
“Forcing critically and chronically ill patients to attempt to make their own edible products rather than obtaining those of known quality and potency undermines their health, detracts from their quality of life and creates safety risks that do not currently exist in our manifest.”
Stanwick noted those who use medical marijuana, but don’t want to smoke it, still have the option of purchasing oil from a dispensary and making their own baked goods at home.
In the meantime, the major focus for health officials is educating the public so they know what they’re taking once marijuana becomes legal in Canada, and highlighting the fact that edibles are associated with increased risk to children without child proof packaging.